Archive for the ‘video games’ Category
I was in Rottingdean the other day with the Enfants Terribles when we passed a small shop called Serendipity. I asked them whether they knew what it meant and I ended up explaining it in terms of the Google ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button (which I have to admit I’ve never quite got and always struck me as a bit of a lack of imagination on the part of the presser – it really isn’t difficult in the era of the Web to go on your own random or serendipitous journey).
The Wikipedia entry for Serendipity (which Google freakily informs me Aleks Krotoski shared on tumblr.com on 29 Apr 2011, Aleks having appeared at The Story #1 in February 2010) is one of its more charming entries:
“Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. [prime wikispam] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.”
Meanwhile, over on the other side of Brighton… towards Hove/Portslade my former colleague at Channel 4, Matt Locke, was busy putting the finishing touches to his The Story conference, like the programme for the day which was etched into bars of dark chocolate. When Matt started this one day gathering in 2010 it was a labour of love alongside his day job at C4. I thoroughly enjoyed that first iteration and recorded 4 things I learned from it on Simple Pleasures part 4. It’s interesting looking back at that entry today: the first thing I learnt was:
1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.
The same held good for #2 last year featuring the likes of a controversial Adam Curtis, writer Graham Linehan and photographer Martin Parr. I think I was too indolent to write up last year’s.
Connections, inspiration and creativity are the meat and two veg of this blog and what the Web is wonderful at catalysing. Straight after exiting Conway Hall yesterday I met up with Karyn Reeves who was waiting just outside, a statistician from Perth, Australia who specialises in analysing mathematical patterns around AIDS infection. Karyn is only the second person I’ve met in real life through having made contact online. The first was Sandra, a street art aficionado from Jaffa. Karyn writes a lovely blog about vintage Penguin books, which she collects and reads weekly, and I came across her in the wake of reading an old Penguin I picked up at random in my local bookshop, Black Gull, about the trial of Roger Casement. By chance Casement’s defence lawyer, I read, had his chambers at 4 Raymond Buildings from where my best friend now operates. What a tangled Web we weave. So Karyn and I headed back from The Story 3 to Black Gull where she picked up a few more P-p-p-enguins.
Meanwhile back at the start of the day… Meg Pickard of The Guardian, with whom I got into a lively online discussion at one of the earlier two The Story s about where The Guardian should gather their user-generated photos of Antony Gormley’s One and Other (which we were discussing here and he was explaining here), kicked off the proceedings with a quick update from The Ministry of Stories, the excellent local children’s literacy project based in a Monsters Supplies shop in Hoxton and championed by the likes of Nick Hornby. Part of the ticket price for The Story goes to the now thriving, volunteer-driven project. It’s great to see such a thing burgeoning in Hoxton – when I was a teenager my step-dad would drive me past there on the way to Petticoat Lane where I worked on the market stall outside his shop, he’d point past some grim Victorian estate and say ” ‘Oxton, arse-hole of the universe, never go there, son.” How it has come on over the years…
Next up was Matt Sheret of LastFM in discussion with producer Simon Thornton of Fat Boy Slim fame about telling stories through the album form. Simon was the fella behind the brilliant remix of Brimful of Asha (way better than the original) as well as the marvelous Turn On Tune In Cop Out by Freakpower. The whole debate about the patterns of music consumption in the Web/On Demand age and the relationship between albums and single tracks is a fascinating one still, and particularly for me at the moment as I’m working on a development to do with a classic album with Bob Geldof’s gang at Ten Alps and Universal Music, very much shaped around a carefully constructed sequence of 9 great songs which may or may not now be a thing of the past (I take Simon’s side, but I would wouldn’t I).
At this point Channel 4 wove back in in the form of artist Jeremy Deller, currently setting up his one-man show at the Hayward on the South Bank and the prime mover of Artangel’s The Battle of Orgreave, commissioned and funded by C4. He sees the ’84-’85 miners’ strike as a critical moment in British history (it gets its own room in his soon-to-open retrospective) and that programme/artistic re-enactment as a way of “exhuming a corpse to give it a proper post-mortem”. He spoke about how everyone of our generation remembers where they were when the miners took on ‘The Iron Lady’ (in spite of the fact I’d voted for her [Streep not Thatch] Meryl Streep’s apology [in the Miltonian sense of explanation/justification] for the strange politics of that movie at the BAFTAs the other night is still bugging me) – my other half was up in Ayrshire making her graduation film about the miners’ wives with a dodgy old University of Ulster camera, while I was visiting my oldest friend at Baliol where a furious debate about how to support the strike was erupting in their common room, featuring toffs in donkey jackets as well as more grown-up, committed people than me, who was still relying on the likes of Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello to give me some political insight). Deller’s still- image only presentation was one of the highlights of the day for me, centred on one iconic photograph of a miner father and his glam rock showbiz son.
Next up, blogger Liz Henry who told the fascinating story of A Gay Girl in Damascus, a murky tale of hoaxing and fictional blogging (an area I find fascinating as an emerging writing form and which formed a substantial part of the now traditional annual Story lunch with Tim Wright and Rob Bevan, the former in particular much interested in this territory [and the person who taught me the value of the image-only presentation when I helped host the launch of his outstanding In Search of Oldton project at Channel 4 HQ a few years ago]). I learnt a lovely new word too ‘Sockpuppeting’ – to comment on your own blog both positively and negatively as a way of stimulating interest/activity. One of the interesting facts that emerged was that The Guardian published the initial story without establishing proper (off-line) sources based on people who had actually met the Gay Girl in question in real life (shades of Karyn above and Tom/Emily below).
Late on Thursday afternoon, the eve of The Story, I met for the first time Anthony Owen, Head of Magic (arguably the best job-title in the business) at Objective TV, home of Derren Brown. We were kicking off a project to do with consumerism. Lo and behold within 18 hours he’s up on stage before me doing a magic trick and explaining the role of narrative within that art/entertainment form. Particularly interesting for me as the youngest Enfant Terrible has recently become obsessed with performing magic, daily learning tricks off of YouTube and practising them with his chums over Skype (before posting them back on YouTube and Facebook). Anthony singled out the quality of encapsulating “something we’d love to have happen” (e.g. being psychic, becoming immortal, etc.) as the defining characteristic of a great trick – so sawing a woman in half only to reunite the two still living ends is a story about immortality which also has the key quality of being sum-upable in a sentence.
Coincidence and serendipity came to the fore again in the afternoon when Emily Bell, formerly of The Guardian online and now teaching at Columbia (who I first had the pleasure of hanging out with on the panel of judges she lead at The Guardian Student Journalism Awards a few years ago, in The Ivy so clearly a former era) interviewed Tom Watson MP about the phone-hacking scandal whilst: Meanwhile across town… in Wapping Rupert Murdoch was entering the newsroom of the Currant Bun and sticking two Aussie fingers up at the British establishment and public, who momentarily humiliated him last summer, by announcing the impending launch of The Sun on Sunday. The audience was riveted by the recounting of events from both the MP and Guardian perspectives, and the interview typified the rich and perfectly balanced mix of contributions making up the day’s programme. Watson predicted that there was a massive PC/Data hacking dimension to the scandal still to break.
Vying with Deller for highlight of the day was Scott Burnham. The last time I met Scott was in the back of a Nissan Cube in which he was filming me spouting on about why I love London. At this year’s The Story he spoke vibrantly about design in the city and urban play through a classic tale of 7 Coins, the last vestiges of a beautiful public art project in Amsterdam. He told of the construction of a Stefan Sagmeister piece made up of 250,000 one cent pieces and its subsequent thoughtless destruction by dumb cops who were trying to protect the raw cash (still held as evidence in the police station). His conclusion was that we’ll always have Paris… I mean, we’ll always have Amsterdam… he means, we always have the story if not the creation itself. He took the 7 coins, painted blue on one side, out of his pocket to show me and the Royal College of Art’s Bronac Ferran as we chatted outside the hall during the tea break.
Also up in contention as a highlight was artist Ellie Harrison, author of Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector. She started her work focused on gathering everyday data on her life or ‘life tracking’ at Nottingham Trent university art school and then later at Glasgow School of Art (where our host Matt once studied). An early such work was ‘Eat 22’ in which she recorded everything she ate for a year in 1,560 photos. At the start of her talk she positioned herself firmly as a Thatcher’s Child (a resonant link back to Deller’s earlier session) and was sporting a Bring Back British Rail T-shirt (a campaign she champions, also resonant as my aforementioned best-friend above worked on that Kafkaesque privitisation). So food and beyond, Ellie’s obsession and the thread through her work seems to be with Consumption – she spoke about her development with great humour and insight (including into her own compulsions). From ‘Eat 22’ she went on to record all her everyday actions in a spreadsheet, in turn converted to colour-coded graphs, which is when the addiction kicked in. I was sitting in a brainstorm at an indie production company a couple of weeks ago discussing mental health and happiness when a colleague I have know a long time revealed he’s been keeping a numerical record of his mood on a precise scale of 1 to 100 every day for well over a decade, with the last five years available likewise in Excel form. So art/fiction are no stranger than life.
Preloaded I have known since they were born, as I worked with founder Paul Canty, as well as Rob Bevan and Tim Wright, on a game called MindGym way back when. Paul’s colleague, Phil Stuart, and writer Tom Chatfield talked us through the game of self-discovery, death and philosophy they made for Channel 4 Education – The End. This rounded off a fine day, alongside Karen Lubbock and Jeremy Leslie on mags and Karen magazine in paricular, ‘a magazine made out of the ordinary’, and a lively turn from Danny O’Brien on josticks, hacking, anarchy and the universe. And where can you go from there…
Hooked up the other day, after a dog’s age, with designmeister Jason Loader (who has just set up on his own as Yeah Love). We made MindGym together way back when – a game about creative thinking. Jason has been kind (and patient) enough over the weekend to dig out some of the old design assets from a moribund machine…
There are some more here
All these 3D environments were designed by Jason Loader (at a time when they typically took over 18 hours to render, so a bit on the frustrating side if you didn’t get it right first time). MindGym was a concept I came up with at Melrose Film Productions in the wake of making a series of films about Creativity. I nicked the title from Lenin or one of those Ruskies, who used the term with reference to chess. So Jason and I started work on it, then the pair of us hooked up with NoHo Digital to realise a bastard creation of great energy. Rob Bevan (now at XPT) did the interface design and programming, skilfully combining this kind of rich 3D with elegant 2D inspired by You Don’t Know Jack. His creative partner Tim Wright led the writing team – him, Ben Miller and me – it was a comic script with serious stuff underlying the gags. I couldn’t help chuckling recently when I heard someone refer to Rob & Tim as the Jagger & Richards of new media. Talking of which, Nigel Harris did the music and sound design – excellent audio was one of our explicit creative goals, again inspired by YDK Jack. And talking of Jack the lads, Paul Canty (now of Preloaded) and Mike Saunders (Kew Digital), who were just starting out, were also among the production team. The studio was infested with red ants (possibly flesh-eating), but it didn’t distract us from the task at hand…
Had a rather good day at work! 100,000 people used the videos commissioned for my latest project, Embarrassing Bodies, in the first two hours after broadcast of the kick-off show last night. That bodes well for a lot of self-checking and preventive health activity. One Self-Check Video was viewed 24,000 times in those two hours. And there were well over half a million pageviews in the first 12 hours. NHS eat your heart out… (or more productively and with less risk of MRSA, work with Channel 4 to get this kind of thing across effectively.)
Another C4 speciality is scheduling. Tonight’s a classic:
21:00 Embarrassing Bodies
22:00 Michael Barrymore – What Really Happened? (Honest, Officer, I’ve no idea how that embarrassing body got there…)
Guardian article by Jemima Kiss
I promised previously on Drinker with a Writing Problem to report back on ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ at the Riverside, Hammersmith once I’d seen it. Well on Thursday I made a bee-line back from the rather sober Oxford Media Conference to get back in time for the press night of the play.
As I emerged from Hammersmith tube I bumped into Grant Dean of Eidos (home of Tomb Raider) and his sweet little daughter. Grant and I know one another from the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Committee – he went on to chair the Video Games Committee while I went on to the TV Committee to try and make the rest of interactive entertainment beyond games part of the mainstream of the Academy. I remember trying to convey to the TV Committee a concept I called ‘New Television’ (you can imagine how well that went down) and introducing to them, among a selection of other emerging sites, this new thing called ‘YouTube’ (which I’d only come across two or three weeks before). A couple of years down the track and Malcolm Garrett, Martin Freeth, Terry Braun, Martyn Ware, a few other stalwarts and I are still fighting that particular battle.
And there I watched a barnstorming performance by Adrian Dunbar as the Irish playwright Brendan Behan. A charismatic, cathartic, compelling performance.
The play was written by Behan’s own niece – Janet, daughter of writer and playwright Brian Behan. I saw her straight after curtain-down in the foyer and I’ve never seen anyone so charged. It had taken her six years to get this very well written, tight, witty script staged. What a kick to see it realised with such skill and energy to climax in a standing ovation. What a kick to hear your audience join in the singing – “Fair fucks to yer!” responded Brendan (whether that was in the script or not – no idea).
In the bar after, the superbly talented, modest and warm Brid Brennan, who played Behan’s missus, told me and the Missus that, from her experience, the kind of reaction the performance prompted from the audience that night was something very special. My Missus reckoned the turning-point was the scene where a drunken Behan crashes on stage at a performance of his play ‘The Hostage’ on Broadway – in his naturally ebullient way, he breaks into song (Adie has a wonderful classic Irish tenor voice) and the Riverside audience joined in becoming the Broadway crowd.
Equally stunned on emerging was Anna Nygh, Adie’s wife, also an actor. She’d heard him rehearsing the lines around the house (a helluva lot of lines as he drives the two hours of dialogue) but had no notion quite how much he was inhabiting the character – or vice versa… She summed it up by confirming ‘It’s taken his acting up a level’.
The action is centred on Behan’s room in the legendary Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd in New York. He’s struggling to write a book about New York of which he’s already drunk the advance. It’s not only his publisher he’s let down but also his mistress and baby son. And his wife Beatrice is just about to show up from Dublin. With a tape recorder on his desk and a pint of whiskey under his mattress, he reflects on the journey that brought him from inner city Dublin to the weird&wonderful diversity of the streets of New York, through which the paparazzi pursue him. One of the highpoints of the play is a Berkoff-like set piece when Behan enacts the moment a journalist lured him out of sobriety by sending a free drink over to him at a bar, three fellow under-cover hacks watching from the shadows.
The show is punctuated with cracking lines. Like the one about the definition of an Irish homosexual – a man who prefers a woman to a drink.
When Adie emerged from the dressing room afterwards, I had to congratulate him for making such a good fat man. He’s so slight in real life but with just a bit of a belly added beneath his shirt he played Behan’s drinker’s bulkiness with such conviction you saw it in his restricted diabetic movements and bloated lumbering.
What ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ showed above all was the paradox of a man who clearly loved life and spent every day trying to kill himself. He expressed a great fear of just being an ordinary human Behan which was why he disappeared to New York in the first place – he loved being immersed among the extraordinary flotsam of a big city.
The play is on until 3rd February – do yourself a favour…
Spoke at a really fun event last night – Quickfire organised by Katz Kiely’s Just B (which puts on the bTween interactive media conference every year in Yorkshire). It was a formatted event, Petchakutcha style – 14 slides for 30 seconds each, moving on automatically whether you’re ready or not. There’s something about this kind of format for speaking events which has made the ones I’ve experienced truly inspirational, at the very least very interesting and entertaining – and last night was no exception. I think it’s the combination of concision and parlour game.
Last night’s event was focused on the 13 areas which make up the Creative Industries in governmentspeak. There was one speaker for each area (with just a couple doubled up and with me as Television). The theme across the whole breadth was the impact of connectivity on the discipline in question.
So here are the 14 Things which Inspired me.
1. Advertising – Richard Adams / Chemistry
Not the Watership Down Richard Adams but an imposter who knows a lot about the way brands need to approach interactive media. I liked the term he used – “Mecast” – to capture the shift from broadcasting to active engagement with creative material (including advertising).
2. Architecture – Armand Terulli & Ghislaine Boddington / Body Data Space
I was taken with the glass roof they’d designed for a school in Kingston(?), London which detects light changes and alters the opacity accordingly – not in a uniform way but in a digitally designed pattern to cast a natural feeling pattern of shadows which looked like leaves in sunshine.
3/4. Television & Radio – Yours truly / Channel 4
I really got a buzz from the challenge of speaking in conjunction with an out-of-(my)-control automated set of images (as is my wont with Powerpoint, I only used pictures, no words). It appealed in its semi-improvised nature to the wannabe jazzer in me.
5/6. Art & Antiques – Fiddian Warman / Soda
Fiddian showed off the breadth of Soda’s work across pretty much all of the 13 sub-sectors (he struggled by his own admission with Fashion and had to make do with the sweat-shirts they sell bearing their designs). The huge Energy Ring in the Science Museum (which I haven’t yet seen in real-life) was impressive, as was the digital light display on the side of a tower in a North London school (Stoke Newington?) – I had no idea they had done this kind of work. I’m more familiar with the likes of the Irrepressible project they did for Amnesty which is one of the most purposeful mash-ups I’ve come across).
7. Computer Games – Charles Cecil / Revolution
Charming Charles, decendent of Robert of Elizabethan fame, gave a fantastic overview of the Games industry in a mere 840 seconds. I liked the look of Broken Sword 1 which I’ve never played but reminded me of retro bandes-desinees like Yves Chaland. Pictures of Charles’ juvenalia from the era of the ZX Spectrum were particularly inspirational – the man’s been living Games for a long time now.
8. Crafts – James Boardwell / Rattle
The interface between digital technology and crafts I know nothing about so this was a great (global) trip. One image showed craft creations inspired by some Manga-style PlayStation game ranging from ear muffs to a pink cake! You gotta love it.
There were some convincing reflections on the contrast between the speed of the digital age and the slowness of Craft – there’s no doubt we can all use some Slow Time. I’ve noticed that a significant proportion of people who leave the new media industry go off to do stuff like horticulture and carpentry.
9. Design – Kristina Nyzell / Lego
This one just reminded me of happy hours playing Lego in my room in Selvage Lane – although apparently “it’s not a toy” – brands, dontcha just love ’em?
10. Film – Matt Hanson / Swarm of Angels
An interesting attempt to create a user-generated feature film based on subscriptions from participants. Apparently though “there has to be a head chef in the kitchen and that’s me!” Can’t beat benign dictatorship to get stuff done. Reminds me of the scene in Channel 4’s documentary about Findhorn a couple of years ago where the hippies were trying to design a leaflet collectively – never happened til the designer took the law in his own hands. Swarm makes an interesting comparison with the current MyMovieMashup project from FilmFour, MySpace and Vertigo Films. Also with Michaela Ledwidge’s Sanctuary project at Mod Films. So my inspiration here was the memory of the last movie I watched, last weekend, Walk on Water which was a good entertaining and moving film made in pretty much the normal way without that much cash.
11. Music – Martyn Ware / Illustrious
Who’d have thought when I went in to buy that 7″ of Fascist Groove Thang all those years ago that one day I’d be sharing a stage with the cuddly Martyn Ware, founder member of the Human League, Heaven 17er, and unflagging champion of interactive audio. We used to do the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment committee together when we were young&foolish. He gave me the low-down on that Bruce Nauman sonic installation at Tate Modern – sounds like it was pretty much the audio equivalent of Jeff Koons, most of it made (very badly in Martyn’s ears) by the hired help. You can catch Mr Ware on his Future of Sound tour on 12th April out East at Queen Mary, University of London. Hoping to include some of his work as the first example of sonic public art in my Big Art Mob mobile blogging project launching next month. [test design above]
12. Performing Arts – Kelli Dipple / Tate
This speaker didn’t play the game because she had had to step into the breach at the eleventh hour – there was no synchronisation between words and pictures. So the pleasure in this one lay in the energy of the performance, which was as it should be for the subject.
13. Publishing – Mike Butcher / Mbites
Mike gave a quickfire history of publishing from an aboriginal cave painting via the Gutenberg bible and sufragette pamphleteering (which he likened to this very act of blogging) to Marconi and Logie Baird, to whom I suppose I owe more than the occasional admiring reflection as I walk past the John Baird public house. I enjoyed the link to the lost art of pamphleteering and will think further on it.
And my fourteenth inspiration to round off? The enjoyment of analogue connectivity in a big room with wine and cake. The room where I first came across Alfie Dennen, setting off the chain of connection which has resulted in the Big Art Mob. The room where I talked acoustics with Martyn Ware (including of the Whispering Gallery in Saint Paul’s where I proposed) and where I talked swing bands with Katz who is paying me for the gig in music.
A gathering last night of the UK Creative Industries Forum chaired by Barry Shearman MP. Was sat next to Shaun Woodward, the Minister for the Creative Industries, who gave us an update on the Creative Economy Programme and the unfolding process around the Green Paper. One useful thing that should come out of the programme are better stats around the Creative Industries which account for some 8% of the UK economy yet lack the basic metrics of sectors like the Financial Services. Whilst our sector has been growing consistently at a healthy 6% p.a. it is something of a wayward youth in terms of its lack of hard data and immature industry representation to government. The analysis forming the first part of the Green Paper stems from the rationale that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. That of course raises the question of whether it’s about Management or Facilitation.
The skills and education issues were prominent as ever. The Minister drew the attention of the Video Games industry, represented by Ian Livingstone of Eidos, that unlike the perfect distribution and vital statistics of Lara Croft, there are only four industry-accredited games courses in the UK of which three are in Scotland, none in England.
What struck me again during the conversation was just what a balancing act the coining of the term ‘Creative Industries’ set off. Whilst the Creative Economy Programme is trying to identify the common principles and dynamics of the 13 industries under this umbrella, the conversation brought out the significant distinctions and variations of perspective between Music (as represented by Andy Heath of Beggars Group) and Theatre (as championed by Stephanie Sirr, boss of Nottingham Playhouse), between Design (David Worthington, formerly of Conran) and Architecture. Attitudes towards the development of IPR and community experience, by way of examples, were a far cry from what’s happening in the land where TV meets Interactive Media that I inhabit.